Income Disparity

Highest Salaries in Germany's Auto Towns

The city of Wolfsburg owes much of its wealth to the Volkswagen car plant. Source: Julian Stratenschulte, DPA

While U.S. car-making capital Detroit has long ceased to be a byword for prosperity, the opposite is still true in Germany.

According to data released by Germany’s ministry for social affairs, the country’s best-paid employees live in two cities closely linked to the auto industry: Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt. The first is the headquarters of Volkswagen; the second is home to VW’s luxury subsidiary Audi.

Half the employed residents of Wolfsburg earn a gross monthly salary of or above €4,610, or $4,900. In Ingolstadt, a city in the southern state of Bavaria, the monthly median salary is €4,545, or 50 percent more than the country’s median income of €3,000.

Wolfsburg, a city of 120,000 located 140 miles west of Berlin, has long been synonymous with Audi’s parent company Volkswagen, which last year overtook its rival Toyota and became the world’s biggest carmaker despite the diesel emissions cheating scandal that has plagued VW since September 2015. The corporation is one of Germany’s largest employers and many suppliers and subcontractors are based in and around Wolfsburg.

The government published this new data last week as part of a more comprehensive answer to an inquiry from Left Party lawmaker Sabine Zimmermann about income inequality by region. Ms. Zimmermann asked for information about cities and districts with the highest median incomes and those where pay is lowest.

More than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the four areas where earnings are lowest are all still in the former East Germany. Most but not all are rural. They include Görlitz, a Saxon town of 55,000 on the border with Poland, ranking fourth from the bottom. The average salary in these four areas is €2,050 – less than half people’s earnings in the two car industry capitals.

“Given these wage disparities, we can’t talk about equal living conditions in Germany,” Ms. Zimmermann said. She dismissed any counter arguments about the lower cost of living in poorer regions. “Buying a car or shopping at the supermarket doesn’t cost less than half as much in rural Saxony as it does in regions where people earn more,” she said.


Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author:

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